Search and Rescue Dogs
For a puppy to become an accomplished Search and Rescue (SAR) dog its training and preparedness must begin from the time it is a young puppy. Imprinting is a process that occurs between the third and seventh week of a puppy's life, when the puppy learns to recognize other animals and people and develop relationships with them. This is also when the puppy begins to communicate with us in earnest.
To make the most of this naturally occurring "imprinting process" the SAR handler should take every opportunity to create frequent and fun experiences that help to stimulate and develop the puppy's senses. These experiences should involve the puppy's sense of touch, sight, smell and hearing. It is also good that these experiences are not only shared between the handler and puppy but also with a variety of people both in groups and individually. Before the puppy has reached a month of life these socialization activities really have little long-term effect but by the time the puppy is five to six weeks old these activities must be constant. From this point on this socialization or imprinting process is now central to the bonds it will be building with its handler and other humans that it will be called on to rescue in the future.
This is also when the puppy learns its place in the pack and its standing within the hierarchy of it. If the handler doesn't show the puppy that they are the leader of the pack, then this will cause obedience problems later on. After the third month the puppy's character will begin changing and the socialization process will become more difficult and complicated. If the puppy has not become heavily imprinted towards people then the harm will be irreversible.
Once puppy has received a good imprinting and socialization then it has the basis upon which to build a good line of communication and interaction with its handler. From the third week of life till the fourth month the experiences that the puppy has will have a heavy impact on its lifelong character and personality. Even though through training it can be taught to overcome difficulties or problems that have occurred during puppy hood it will never be able to reach the full potential that it could have if these occurrences hadn't occurred. It has also be shown time and again that a puppy that is exposed to a wide range of sensory stimulating experiences during these early weeks has a strong advantage over those that haven't. The following describes some of the important life stages of a young puppy.